Noe Valley Voice October 2004

This 'n' That

By Laura McHale Holland

September brought us news of recent adventures from several noteworthy neighbors. Let's start off with 28th Street resident Jessica Rigby. A teacher of humanities and civics at San Francisco's Gateway High School, Rigby joined an Earthwatch research team this summer for a 16-day expedition to Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

What did she do? She and five colleagues examined the amphibian and insect populations along Salt Creek, the park's perennial stream. The data they collected will be used to help determine the impact of humans, especially vehicular traffic, on the region's ecology. This information will be factored into future national park decisions about road construction.

"I'm not a scientist in any way, so doing scientific research was really exciting and invigorating for me intellectually," Rigby says. She honed her teaching skills too. "There's a big argument about how Canyonlands will be used. One group wants to build a road, and one group opposes a road. It's really a good example for teaching the idea of scarcity and how you place value on a commodity that's scarce."

Earthwatch provides both field excursions and online education for teachers, students, business leaders, and resource managers. Rigby's participation was sponsored by the Jewett Foundation, and she was one of 350 teachers worldwide to receive an Earthwatch research fellowship this year.


Also on the move is actor and writer Dan Hoyle. Hoyle's home is on Sanchez Street, where he was reared by his parents--master comic Jeff Hoyle and Mary Winegarden, a lecturer at San Francisco State University. In 2002, he traveled the world after receiving a Circumnavigator Club grant to study the effects of economic globalization.

Circumnavigator, his solo performance chronicling that trip, debuted at Chashama Presents in New York in May and subsequently received an enthusiastic reception at the Marsh on Valencia Street. The initial five-week run in July and August was extended through Sept. 25. Then Hoyle took a two-week break to tour the show on college campuses while also working on a documentary film with his brother Jonah about swing states in the coming presidential election. Circumnavigator reopens for a two-week run at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street, Thursdays through Saturdays, Oct. 14 through 23. (Call 826-5750 for tickets, which are $10 to $14.)

Of his extended run, Hoyle says, "It feels pretty amazing because I knew I wanted to do a show when I left on my trip, but I was a 22-year-old college kid, and I didn't know that I could have success in the real world--I don't think anyone knows until they do--and so it's been hugely inspiring."

Hoyle, who recently graduated from Northwestern University with a double major in history and performance studies, has big aims. "I'm trying to bring the complexity of what people can do in journalism and writing into an entertaining form," he says. "This whole idea of lived experience as theater is exploding. There's a hunger for realness, and there's nothing more real than somebody recreating their own experiences, especially if it's about some real issues and not just about the crazy casseroles my grandmother used to make. Of course, you need both. Theater needs to work its magic in human stories. And that's the great challenge for me, bringing these nuanced things into theater in a way that's going to engage people. Instead of reading about something in the New York Times, they'll be seeing it and experiencing it," he says.

Hoyle attributes his success to his supportive family, and to his director Charlie Varon, who, he says, "has a genius for pulling out what is interesting and possibly amazing in somebody's lived experience." He is also grateful to the community of friends he's known since he was a kid, who packed the house early on and created a buzz. In January, Hoyle will leave for Nigeria to study oil politics for a year on a Fulbright scholarship. Will it result in another show? You bet.


Next up: Artist Ben Dominguez. A lifelong resident of Clipper Street and a City College alumnus, Dominguez has devoted himself full-time to painting since 1992, when he took early retirement from his job as a driver for PG&E. (If you frequent the Valley Tavern on 24th Street, you may recall seeing his expressionist oil paintings on display there at the beginning of this year.)

"My work is a cross between Renaissance and surrealist types of paintings. Some people have said my still lifes resemble Monet and Cézanne, but of course my street scenes and locations are very different." Many depict San Francisco.

This summer, his work won awards at two nearby county fairs. His miniature oil paintings won a silver (second place) ribbon at the San Mateo County Fair, and reproductions of his paintings on postcards and place mats won a first place and Best in Show at the Marin County Fair.

"I'm having so much fun, I could never work a regular job again," Dominguez says. "Of course, I worked for 30 years, but it's been long enough now that I forget that I even used to work. I love it."

Call Dominguez at 647-6050 if you want to visit his studio. Or, if you're planning a jaunt to Pacifica soon, one of his paintings is in a group show at Sanchez Art Center, 1230 Linda Mar Boulevard, through Oct. 31. Several of his paintings are also on display in the East Bay showroom of El Cerrito Honda. But there's no rush on that. They've been on view there for three years, with paintings being replaced as they are sold.


Shannon Miller didn't retire, but she did get laid off from her longtime job as an executive assistant with Chevron Texaco in 2002. Due to her long tenure with the company, she wasn't left high and dry, so the first thing she did when she got the news was buy herself a Yorkshire terrier puppy and named him Gadget. "I'd wanted a Yorkie forever. I saw them all over the streets of Paris when I went there in 1998," she recalls.

Miller bonded quickly with her new companion and found that not only did he wake her up at 6 a.m. every day, but he also got her out walking around the neighborhood. Last May, Miller met a woman walking a Lhasa Apso puppy named Shakespeare. Miller learned that her new acquaintance was looking for someone to care for her pup during the day. "I just fell in love with Shakespeare, so I said I'd take him," she says. "Then I called up four dog-sitting places nearby and priced myself lower than all of them."

Things have gone so well with Shakespeare that Miller has officially gone into business as Puppy Love, a dog-sitting service for canines that weigh less than 20 pounds. She charges $25 per day for 10 to 11 hours, $10 extra if the dog stays overnight. She only has room for a total of four full-time dogs at her Duncan Street digs, but she can accommodate drop-ins, too. She teaches basic commands, does potty training if necessary, and provides healthy treats. Gadget is taking it all in stride.


Elyse Shafarman has also just gone into business for herself, teaching the Alexander Technique. She graduated from the Alexander Training Institute last December, and also completed her M.A. in psychophysiology from San Francisco State at the same time. Before hanging out her shingle in September, she interned for nine months with Frank Ottiwell, who is director of San Francisco's Alexander Training Institute.

Shafarman's vocation was developed by Frederick Mathias Alexander (1869­ 1955). He was a Shakespearean actor who contracted chronic laryngitis--the death knell for a thespian. Determined to restore the full use of his voice, he carefully watched himself while speaking. After deciding that excessive muscular tension accounted for most of his problem, he devised ways to retrain his body to move differently. Thus, the Alexander Technique, which works to change movement habits in everyday activities, was born.

Shafarman, now in her mid-30s, first tried the technique when she was an 18-year-old modern dancer in training. "My first [Alexander] lesson was a dramatic experience. I left feeling like I had a completely different body. My walking was light as air. Colors looked brighter. It was an incredibly transforming experience," she recalls. "I also noticed that for several days afterwards, my jumps were higher, my extensions were really high. I was a much more graceful and skilled dancer than I knew it was possible for me to be. I also became fascinated by how my thinking affected my body state, and conversely, how my body state affected my thinking, which has pretty much been my obsession ever since."

A typical Alexander lesson lasts 45 minutes. "The teacher will use very gentle, hands-on guidance to help educate the student about where they're interfering with optimum functioning. Then you get to practice inhibiting the tension habits and giving yourself mental directions for better functioning of your whole self," Shafarman says.

Shafarman works out of her Guerrero Street home as well as in an office on Chenery Street. She charges $40 to $60 per session. You can reach her at 342-6255.

Iliana Vasquez and Natalie Gomez, who both graduated from Immaculate Conception Academy (the all-girl, Catholic high school located at 24th and Fair Oaks streets) in June, must be feeling buoyancy akin to what Shafarman describes. They each received full scholarships for both their undergraduate and graduate studies from the Gates Millennium Scholars program. They were among only 1,000 students nationwide selected for this award. Vasquez is now attending the University of San Francisco, and Gomez is at Santa Clara University.

"With the help of great teachers, I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime," says Vasquez. "I now have so many possibilities for a wonderful education and a brighter future."

Gomez expresses similar sentiments. "The [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation acknowledged my hard work, the support of my family, my excellent teachers, and the amazing education I received at ICA," she says. "It's a wonderful accomplishment for everyone in my life and everyone who will be in my life. It has broadened my horizons in so many ways."

What distinguished them, aside from their stellar GPAs and test scores? Principal Sister Janice Therese Wellington knows. The list of Vasquez's extracurricular achievements is long: student council, cheerleading, campus ministry, theater, and playing and coaching soccer and tennis. "Because she took on so many responsibilities and really followed through, she elicited the respect from both peers and teachers," Wellington says. "She often found herself being a mediator, and she had the ability to insert humor into situations that really helped. She also came to realize that her success is not about pleasing her parents or about showing off, but it is about realizing her own potential so that she would be successful."

Gomez was a member of the National Honor Society and California Scholastic Federation, and Las Latinas Unidas. She devoted much of her time to tutoring other students. She was also part of ICA's campus ministry, taking leadership in retreats and prayer services. "Over the years, I found that when confronted with some difficult choices that would not have been popular with her peers, Natalie was able to make the right decision, the truthful decision in each case," recalls Wellington. "That takes a lot of guts when you're a teenager. She was always responsible, generous, and really a person of integrity. She also managed to do all of this and hold down a part-time job."


So neighbors, no matter your age or current situation, be inspired, and do us proud! Then share the news with your neighbors. You have until the 15th of the month to send in news of your personal milestones. We're interested in everything from new babies to new ventures, book signings to academic honors.

Contact us by e-mailing thisnthat@noe Or if it's more convenient, leave a message at 415-821-3324 or write the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114.